Cameos of Art Museums' Collections of Historic American Art





The Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, located at 2818 Frederick Avenue in St. Joseph, Mo., houses one of the finest collections of 18th, 19th, and 20th-century American art in the Midwest. Through special xhibitions, educational programs, performance events and publications, the Museum serves as a cultural arts center for Northwest Missouri.

The Museum originated in 1913 with the foundation of the St. Joseph Art League - a group of twelve women who sought to increase public awareness and understanding of the arts. With the hope of establishing a public art museum in St. Joseph, the League acquired the William Merritt Chase painting A Venetian Balcony. One of the Art League members, Estelle Manon, arranged for the purchase after a period of study with Chase in Venice during which time Ms. Manon witnessed the artist creating the painting. This purchase, made in 1915 with funds raised at teas, performances and a special showing of the painting in a local department store, became the first, and most beloved, work in the future Museum's permanent collection.

The St. Joseph Art League was formally incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in 1924. As a gesture of thanks for the group's support of the construction of the Edmund Eckel-designed City Hall, the Art League was granted exhibition space in the new facility in 1928. Later, through a bequest from Frederica Hax, the Art League purchased a building at 411 Francis Street and opened the Hax Art Center in 1949.

The devotion of the community of St. Joseph to private support for the cultural arts is illustrated again and again in the histories of its institutions. In this spirit Mr. and Mrs. Conger Beasley gave the former home of Mrs. Beasley's parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Albrecht, at 2818 Frederick to the Art League for the purpose of creating a permanent home for the Art League's modest collection. Mr. Albrecht was the founder of the Western Tablet Company which manufactured the Big Chief Writing Tablet and used by school children throughout the country. Art League President David H. Morton and a fundraising committee headed by C. D. Hamilton generated more than $100,000 to convert the mansion into a museum. Following a dinner gala at the Hotel Robidoux, the Art League dedicated the Albrecht Gallery May 6, 1966.

Albert Bierstadt
High Sierra (or Near Big Tree Grove, King's River), c. 1880
Oil on canvas, 30 1/2 x 25 inches
Gift of Mrs. Harold P. Dugdale

The collection, which numbered just six objects in 1966 grew to more than 1,000 in the 1970s and had doubled in size again by 1990. On March 15, 1991 the museum's Board of Directors, led by President Robert L.

Thedinger, initiated a $2.5 million capital campaign directed by Gerald R. Sprong. The board announced April 1, 1991 that the museum would be renamed The Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, honoring the long and generous patronage of Mr. R. Crosby Kemper. Mr. Kemper, with an astute sense of quality American art, contributed dozens of key objects to the museum's permanent collection during the previous two decades and kicked off the fundraising campaign with an extraordinary $1 million gift.

The 21,112 square foot addition to the existing facility on Frederick was completed and dedicated February 7, 1993. The new addition and improvements to the original facility includes art classrooms, major new gallery spaces, climate-controlled art storage and conservation space, the 144 seat Mary Boder Theatre, the Bradley Art Library, the Museum Shop and professional food service facilities. The museum is ideally situated close to neighborhoods and business districts on grounds which include a rock garden and lily pond original to the 1935 mansion, and formal rose gardens. The original mansion continues to serve the museum well housing galleries devoted to works on paper and decorative arts, as well as administrative offices and volunteer work stations.

FitzHugh Lane

Christmas Cove, Maine, 1858

Oil on canvas, 12 x 20 inches

Purchased with funds donated by the Enid and Crosby Kemper Foundation

Through the generosity of the Kemper family and foundations, and many other enthusiastic supporters, the museum's collection has grown to include an extraordinary group of colonial portraits, rich holdings of American landscape painting, as well as distinguished examples of American Impressionism and the Boston School. An important pastel by Mary Cassatt, Mother Looking Down Embracing Both of Her Children, is a study for an oil painting of the same subject now hanging in the White House. Other highlights include urban realist paintings from the 'Ashcan School', Custer's Last Stand by the influential regionalist Thomas Hart Benton, important contemporary works by recent American masters and one of the region's outstanding print collections with comprehensive holdings of 19th and 20th century graphic arts.

Other Images


This page was originally published in 1997 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 11/8/11

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